Bluebirds improve to 8-0 in 9th Region play, blank Dixie

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Wednesday was the start of a four-game gauntlet for the Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team.

In their last four games of the regular season, the Bluebirds face Dixie Heights, Notre Dame, Elizabethtown and South Oldham. They happen to be ranked the No. 13, No. 4, No. 6 and No. 8 teams, respectively, in the state in the Kentucky High School Soccer Coaches Association Poll.

Highlands (13-2-1) passed test No. 1 with flying colors in a 5-0 victory over Dixie Heights (10-6) in Edgewood for the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Game of the Month.

Entering as the No. 7 team in the state, the Bluebirds got a goal before half and used that momentum for a clinical second half in taking down one of the top teams in the 9th Region.

“We’ve circled this week on the calendar for quite some time. We know this is going to be a super busy week and try and come in strong and take care of each other and take care of the ball,” Bluebirds coach Chris Norris said. “There’s no other way to walk into October facing four of the top teams in the state.”

First it was Katelyn Jamie breaking the ice in the 37th minute on a cross from Claire Cavacini. Then Cavacini netted one of her own on a cross from Laney Smith in the 55th minute to make it 2-0.

“Our strong suits are taking it to the flank, strive the wide and then cross it in,” Cavacini said. “In the beginning, we were kind of struggling with that, not getting our groundings and everything we work on. As soon as we figured out what our strengths are and we actually do it, what we practice, that’s when we finish and that’s what the score ends up as it was,” Cavacini said.

Then Smith got in on the action in the 62nd minute, the program’s all-time leading scorer receiving a pass from younger sister Franny Smith to make it 3-0.

Smith continued with a goal from outside the box to make it 4-0, Cavacini adding the final goal on a pass from Kendall Graves to make it 5-0 in the closing minutes.

Graves and the back line held the Colonels to minimal chances, so much that Natalie Hinegardner didn’t have to make a save all night.

“I look at the state stats every week and we’re nowhere near up there in saves, but we’re up there in shutouts. We do a really good job of forcing other teams into low percentage shots,” Norris said.

The Bluebirds have allowed just 15 goals in 16 games and only four during their current 10-game unbeaten streak. Three of those goals came in one game in a 3-3 tie with Assumption, recording eight clean sheets during the unbeaten run.

“In the back line we just always try and improve our communication and how we can work together better. Especially me and Kaylee (Mills) we’re always constantly talking on and off the field on how we can improve and keep everybody connected,” Bluebirds defender Kendall Graves said. “I’m given a lot of responsibility to have everyone in control and get everyone marked up and we’re getting really good at it.”

Dixie had chances, the first a Maria Dilts shot in the 46th minute that had an opportunity to make it 1-1, but the shot sailed over the crossbar from close range. Abby Parsons had another chance in the 70th minute trying to get Dixie on the scoreboard, but Parsons shot went wide of the target.

“Just something we’ve been battling a little bit of overcoming obstacles and we talk about in life there’s going to be those obstacles and you can’t shy away from them,” Colonels coach Kellie Ponchak said. “You got to take your shot when you get them, if you miss it, you miss it. I’m never going to be mad at my girls missing a shot.”

Those were two of the three shots the Colonels took on the night as they’ve dropped three of their last four games. The loss also extended their losing streak to Highlands to 15 games, including a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bluebirds in the 9th Region tournament semifinals last season. There’s a good chance they could see them again in a few weeks.

“There’s always a few things we’re going to tweak here or there. I’d like to keep the first 35 minutes of this one tonight, but probably not the rest,” Ponchak said.

Emery Rowland had three saves for the Colonels. Things don’t get any easier as they’ll head to Park Hills and take on Notre Dame on Saturday in a 1 p.m. start.

Highlands will host Notre Dame on Monday at 7:30 p.m., trying to win for the second time in 11 days over the Pandas, knocking them off 4-1 on Sept. 14 at the Lady Knights Challenge Cup at Lexington Catholic.

With a team of 13 seniors, the Bluebirds are sensing the postseason and trying to take full momentum into it.

“I think this is a very special group of seniors. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the last three years developing a system of play that we like and developed a playing style that fits our personnel really well,” Norris said. “They trust each other and I think it shows in their play and they’re just super fun to watch.”

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